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By Patrick Samuel • September 23rd, 2011
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Eros International

Release date: March 24th 2003
Certificate (UK): PG
Running time: 188 minutes

Year of production: 1975

Country of origin: India
Original language: Hindi with English subtitles

Director: Ramesh Sippy

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar and Hema Malini

Kabhi Kabhie Review

Amitabh Bachchan was an almost permanent fixture in my house when I was a child. While not in person, definitely in films; Anand (1971), Kabhi Kabhie (1976), Silsila (1981) for example, they were always playing and wherever we went, either to a wedding, party or just visiting relatives, his name or his movies were always brought up. Yet it was probably Sholay which first cemented him so firmly in our everyday lives.

Sholay’s effect was massive, not just with my family, or where I grew up, but also in India where it embedded itself as a pop culture phenomenon. It still plays in packed theatres today where viewer participation is not unlike The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) or Grease (1978) in western countries.


Produced by G.P. Sippy and directed by his son Ramesh Sippy, Sholay made 2,134,500,000 Rupees ($50m) at the box office. The funny thing is, it was initially declared a flop when it opened on August 15th, 1975, but as word of mouth spread, it went on to become the highest-grossing film of all time in India, holding the record until 1995 when Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge was released.

In the film, a retired police officer, Thakur Sahib (Sanjeev Kumar), hires two happy-go-lucky prisoners, Veeru (Dharmendra) and Jai (Amitabh Bachchan), to capture the notorious bandit, Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan). Together with his band of outlaws, they’ve been looting villages and killing families and so far have escaped unpunished. If Gabbar can be brought in alive, the pair with receive 70,000 Rupees as a reward.


As Veeru and Jai get to work, they also fall in love with two local girls. Basanti (Hema Malini), a fast-taking and feisty horse cart driver who steals Veeru’s heart and Radha (Jaya Bhaduri), the quiet widowed daughter-in-law of Thakur who wins Jai’s affections.

When Gabbar attacks the village of Ramgarh during the Holi festival; burning houses and mercilessly killing the innocent villagers, we learn just how merciless he is. Later on when Veeru and Basanti are taken prisoners, Thakur will get his chance for revenge, but will he fight fire with fire or will he let the law prevail?


Sholay’s story is drastically different from what audiences in India expected from an Indian film at that time. For its rugged countryside, horseback bandits, gun fights and damsels in distress, it was dubbed a “curry western”, but its multi-character approach together with various subplots enriches the story to an extent that allowed for movie-goers to be entertained and moved on a visceral and intellectual level.

It presents a feudal society, reflecting the climate at the time with escalating crime, corruption and inflation during Indira Gandhi’s reign as Prime Minister when she declared an emergency to ‘rule by decree’. So much for those who say Bollywood doesn’t reflect on real issues for real people! The film has found its way into popular culture in a way that no other Indian film before it did. Mihir Rose, in Bollywood: A History, observes:


“The dialogue in the film is so well known that some of its most dramatic lines are used in ordinary Indian conversation in much the way that dialogue from the first Godfather movie, which starred Marlon Brando, has been recycled in the West. The film has been used to sell everything from glucose biscuits to gripe water. A ticket black marketer in Delhi made so much money he built a house from it’s profits; rickshaw towns in Patna are name after Dhanno, the mare that featured in the film, and one actor who had a single line but a dramatic few moments being shown on screen as a man on a rock holding a gun, was waved through by a New York immigration officer who instantly recognised him.”


Salim-Javed originally had something else in mind for the screenplay. The idea was for Thakur to be an army officer who hires two junior officers to help him catch Gabbar, but when Ramesh Sippy began working on the script with him in 1973, they realised this would cause too many problems before filming even started. It was changed, with Thakur written as a retired police officer instead.

For Sippy, it was also an opportunity to draw inspiration from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) and Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), For a Few Dollars More (1965) and A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Subsequently, Sholay is fused with more violence and action than had previously been seen in Indian films.


We also can’t forget the songs. With lyrics by Anand Bakshi, “Yeh Dosti“, “Mehbooba Mehbooba” and “Jab Tak Hain Jaan” are definite showstoppers and remain memorable, but it’s “Holi Ke Din” performed by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar that makes the screen explode; not just because of the obvious vocal talents of these legends, but the energetic dancing by Hema Malini and the eruption of colours during the Holi celebrations makes it truly unforgettable. It also sets the stage for Gabbar’s ruthless attack on the village; the juxtaposition of such joyousness followed by scenes of violence is a plot mechanism which pays off well here.


While there are talks about Mukta Arts converting the film to 3D for a new release, as reported by The Hindu on April 13th, 2011, we’re not sure if such an undertaking is really necessary. With a film that has so much to tell, would the gimmick of 3D detract from all of the elements highlighted here?

One thing is for sure, Sholay remains relevant even after 35 years and it’s still proving to be popular as it finds new fans to inspire and fall in love with it.

Rose, M (2006) Bollywood: A History, The History Press Ltd

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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